- Author: Sean Hogan
- Author: Brandon Stark
- Author: Maggi Kelly
non-recreational use of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS - aka. drones) was added to the FAA's Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) in mid-2016, there have been a number of updates to the rules over the years, including an Academic Exemption for education and research purposes (which is only apply to institutions of higher education and not other state agencies or conservation groups). The most recent of these updates occurred in January 2021, when the regulations were further amended to allow for the operation of drones during the night and over people in limited circumstances. For some operators, these have been very welcome changes. However, maybe more widely relevant to our community of drone enthusiasts, in June 2021 the FAA announced the requirement of "The Recreational UAS Safety Test" (TRUST) for all recreational pilots; with the objective of ensuring that these pilots are likewise knowledgeable in the FAA's rules and regulations for drone operations.
Amidst these updates and changes to the regulations, a common question that IGIS receives is "what do I need to do to legally fly a drone?" To answer this question, the head of our UC System's Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety (UASSafety), Dr. Brandon Stark, has provided the following simplified guidelines to help steer people in the right directions, for whether they need the TRUST and/or Part 107 certifications:
- Coursework -> TRUST
- Research in access-controlled field -> TRUST
- Research in public area with people -> Part 107
- Collection of data for another agency -> Part 107
- Promotional media -> Part 107
- Demonstration for students -> TRUST
- Demonstration for non-students -> Part 107
- Inspecting any structure for repairs -> Part 107
- Flying above the FAA's Facility Map Altitude -> Part 107
- Flying above 400 ft (AGL) -> Part 107
- Any operation that could profit the pilot in any way -> Part 107
- Strictly for fun (even if you have a Part 107 certification) -> TRUST
Note - The Academic Exception is not a loophole. Everyone now needs to have either completed a TRUST or Part 107 certification, and preferably both.
For the sake of drone operators everywhere, it is extremely important that we all abide by these rules and regulations; as it could take only one grievous mistake (even if the mistake is unwitting) to legally set back all of the progress that has been made for the allowance of sUAS operations, both within and outside of the UC System.
For more information on the TRUST and Part 107 certifications, please refer to the FAA's official site: https://faadronezone.faa.gov/
For all UC drone operations, please do not forget to file your flights in advance through the UC's UAS Safety App, https://ehs.ucop.edu/drones/. This is not only required by the UC System, but also provides the valuable benefit of insurance coverage for you and your drone in the event of an accident. Additionally, the recently created UC Drones knowledge portal is an incredible resource for a wide range of drone safety and regulation information: https://ucdrones.github.io/
During this coronavirus lock down, IGIS has set out to revamp its data infrastructure to address our growing needs for big data storage and management moving forward. In particular, over the past few years we have accumulated over a dozen terabytes of drone data and associated mapping products, constituting tens of thousands of project files, and the quantity of this data is only expected to keep growing. Typically this drone data has been processed on a number of local desktop computers, and then backed up onto RAID hard drives or the cloud for cold storage; however, this is far from ideal in terms of consistent organization, versioning and ease of distribution.
As a solution to the problem, IGIS purchased a web server, equipped with multiple virtual machines (for processing, analysis and web services) along with a 30TB RAID data store/repository. The repository was networked to our various IGIS computers and RAID storage devices, so that all of our drone data could be transferred over to it. After much consideration, we settled on a standardized file structure, which could accommodate both datasets from past and future drone projects, with room for growth as needed. A python script was written to automatically generate this file structure, with some metadata inputs for each project, and our previous projects' data were then moved into their appropriate slots in the new structure, while jettisoning unwanted intermediary processing files; freeing up a ton of storage space. It would be correct to assume that this process of moving data was quite time consuming. However, moving forward, it will be easy to automatically set up our projects' file structures right from the inception of every new project, beginning with running the python script in ArcGIS Pro's Jupyter Notebook utility in the field, to eventually be delivered to the server repository down the pipeline, in a nicely organized package (similar to what we would provide to our non-IGIS project collaborators).
That alone is a big step in the right direction, but it gets better. Because all of this data is now in a standardized file structure, with standardized folder naming conventions, scripting our ArcGIS portal to automatically connect with the data via the imager server was only a small step away. With this complete, now any IGIS team member can access our entire post-processed, GIS-ready, drone data inventory of layers via ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Pro.
Ultimately this has been a big leap forward, in terms of IGIS's informatics infrastructure; to compliment our significantly evolved pipeline for drone data collection and processing, depicted below.
Recently I was fortunate to work with the IGIS team in Santa Rosa and Sonoma to explore why so many homes and buildings were lost in the October Tubbs and Nuns Fires. With the IGIS's Shane Feirer we collected drone-based video to record how the fires burned through the vegetation near and around the lost structures.
We observed several sites where there was little fire activity in the forests or woodlands, yet the homes burned. This type of video helps us document how devastating a wind-driven ember fire can be and of the important lessons we can learn to be better prepared for wildfire.
From this experience I came away with a painful reminder that we all need to do a better job at focusing on fuels near our homes (e.g. combustible wood mulches used in landscaping, lawn furniture, leaf accumulations, dry landscape plants, etc.), especially in the 5 feet immediately adjacent to our homes. While the Tubbs Fire originated in grassy area in Calistoga it easily picked up embers from the burning vegetation which were moved by the 40-70 mph winds and created spot fires ahead of the flaming front. In short time these embers were blasted into homes via attic or soffit vents (critical to let moisture out of a building) or they ignited combustible materials close to buildings; these types of exposures are the primary way the Tubbs Fire started to consume homes. Eventually the Tubbs Fire moved to the more densely populated areas of the Fountain Grove subdivision in Santa Rosa and with each new home that was ignited a new source of embers were created. The embers that came from the burning buildings included 2 x 4s, chunks of wood the size of a frisbee, and other materials. These materials were blasted over Highway 101 on to homes and businesses in the urban center of Santa Rosa- a place most thought could not be impacted by wildfire. The winds persisted till mid-morning on October 9th providing considerable time for an ember to find a weakness in the home. All of us hope we never have a fire like this again, but as history shows us, California's most damaging fires typically occur in the September and October and are often wind-driven.
For many years UC has worked in educating homeowners about fire preparedness in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). These fires have resulted in the largest number of structure losses to date in California and we all need tools to better understand how to learn from these experiences. I greatly appreciate IGIS's willingness to help me collect some critical data in a time sensitive manner.
- Author: Sean Hogan
IGIS is thrilled to have a fantastic relationships with Parrot S.A. (one of the largest consumer drone corporations in the world), and Parrot's subsidiary company, Pix4D (the leading developer of drone data processing applications in the world), who together have been have been extremely generous and supportive of the IGIS drone program, and the UC System at large.
Please check out Parrot's Educational Blog, which recently featured an outstanding short article on IGIS's research into rangeland applications of drone technology, including the use of Parrot's Sequoia multispectral camera, by clicking here:
Also - Please stay tuned for the upcoming February 2017 issue of California Agriculture, which features an article on unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for agriculture and natural resources (co-authored by myself, Dr. Maggi Kelly, Brandon Stark, and Dr. YangQuan Chen), which will also be accompanied by an editorial written by Dr. Kelly on the need for a coordinated approach to scale up drone research and teaching across the UC system.
- Author: Robert Johnson
I recently attended the Pacific Research Platform Science Engagement Workshop hosted by CITRIS and Calit2 at UC Merced. The PRP is a "data freeway" currently being developed by researchers at UC San Diego and UC Berkeley to connect the major research universities and other research institutions on the west coast with the goal of sharing large datasets and computational resources at speeds of 10-100 Gbps.
The focus of the workshop were a number of digital archaeology projects that were either already using the PRP architecture or had the potential to do so. It was quite interesting to see the efforts being undertaken to preserve at-risk heritage sites using drone imagery, 3D scans of artifacts and 360° virtual reality imagery. All of these techniques produce massive datasets (often several terabytes) which require extensive post-processing and therefore are exactly the type of projects that the PRP was designed for.
After the presentations, we headed over to UC Merced's new WAVE (Wide-Area Visualization Environment) facility to check out some of the virtual reality imagery that had been discussed. The WAVE consists of twenty 4k 3D monitors arranged in a parabolic curve to create an immersive VR environment. We saw several incredibly detailed image sets of archaeological sites in Greece, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Belize that had been processed and were being served through the PRP architecture. The effect was quite impressive, it really was the next best thing to being at the actual site.
All in all, this was a real eye-opening workshop that gave a compelling picture of the future of sharing and visualization of Big Data.